A European Border and Coast Guard: Fit for Purpose?

Written by | Saturday, April 9th, 2016

Sergio Carrera and Leonhard den Hertog (Centre for European Policy Studies)

In response to the migration crisis, the European Commission proposed in December 2015 to modify the existing powers of the FRONTEX agency. FRONTEX is in charge of border control management and, in addition to acquiring broader competencies, staff and facilities, it should also turn into the European Border and Coast Guard (EBCG) with the assistance of the authorities of the EU Member States. This agency would also facilitate a closer cooperation among the EU Member States. For example, a border guard of another state could be dispatched to the common external border without the consent of the country on whose territory it would operate. The European Council recommends that this proposal be discussed as soon as possible, preferably even during the Dutch EU Presidency.

The running of the agency could, however, face some difficulties. The proposal foresees that the Member States will contribute to its financing and provide 2-3 percent of their own border capacities. The agency will thus not have its own EU border guard at its disposal. The proposal also envisages an active cooperation of the Member States, as they will have to agree on the operating plan that they will jointly implement. As we saw last year, shortcomings occurred across the Member States, which faced problems with the functioning of the structural and administrative capacities within the border guards. Without removing these shortcomings, the ECBG won’t be able to effectively draw on the FRONTEX’s work. Furthermore, the proposal presupposes that the national coastguards will start cooperating. It follows that rather than having a military character (as it is the case in some Mediterranean countries today), the coastguards should have a civilian character, and consistently ensure compliance with the EU asylum standards and human rights. However, if violations of humanitarian law still occurred, it is not clear who would be held accountable for such incidents.

If the European Border and Coast Guard were established, it would focus more on the solutions of the asylum problems and human rights issues related to border control as well as on the cooperation with neighboring countries with respect to the return of migrants. The fight against xenophobia and intolerance towards refugees would then be unwittingly pushed to the sidelines. Therefore, the European Asylum Support Office, which currently manages also the ‘hotspots’ in Greece and Italy, should play a bigger role than previously.

 (The study can be downloaded here: https://www.ceps.eu/publications/european-border-and-coast-guard-fit-purpose)

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